State and local governments are responsible for protecting, educating and providing a host of other services to constituents. Unfortunately for many states, they often have to do all of these things with limited resources and reduced budgets.

However, federal grant programs are often available that can make it possible for state and local governments to implement programs, hire professionals and purchase technologies that enable them to better serve their citizens. Recently, many states have used dollars from these grant programs to purchase and implement video collaboration solutions to help power programs and agency initiatives.

We recently had the opportunity to sit down with Tracie Bryant, the Vice President of State and Local Government and Education Sales at solution provider, AVI-SPL, to discuss what grant programs are available for state and local governments, why they were put in place and why state and local government agencies are investing in video collaboration solutions with their grant dollars.

Here is what Tracie had to say:

PSV: What federal grant programs are available today for state and local governments and their agencies? What areas of government are these grants directed to?

Ms. Bryant: The main areas where we’re seeing focus – based on need as well as the grants to support the funding to develop further programs – are in emergency management and public safety, and education and training – specifically for two year colleges.

Let’s talk public safety first, because that’s a key area where we’re seeing a large amount of grant funding. Some of the grants include those for judicial and corrections. Cyclical grants we see year after year include the Justice Assistance Grant (JAG), the Justice Information Sharing Solutions Grant and the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program.

Most of these grants are provided through the Department of Justice (DOJ) and they require county, state and local participation. They want to work across those three sectors. So, there’s a focus on collaboration to help utilize and share resources, with a concentration on saving money and resources on travel and security, while increasing efficiency.

In education, the grants are provided by the Department of Labor (DOL). They require partnerships between community colleges, school districts, high-growth high-demand industry employers, and workforce development centers. And these grants are all about career training. The grants funded through the DOL are called TAACCCT Grants and the Youth Career Connect Grant.

PSV: What needs or pain points do local public safety organizations and agencies need to address with this grant money? Why are they using the grant dollars on video collaboration?

Ms. Bryant: Specifically in the area of public safety, the biggest needs are in mitigation and preparedness, and for analysis and response. Their largest pain point right now is that there are simply too few resources, and – due to geographic distance separating individuals – they need to ensure that they can react more quickly and stay coordinated.

The national FirstNet initiative is driving state governments to examine how their first responders communicate across agencies and collaborate in the event of a disaster.  States determine whether to opt in or out of the FirstNet program, and then apply for planning grants from FirstNet.

Essentially, first responders need to improve response and recovery, while operating more effectively. Technology allows them to disseminate critical information, and we’re here to show them how video can enable those efforts.

So, they’re using video collaboration for daily briefings and planning meetings prior to an event. Also, while responding to emergencies – whether it’s for a natural disaster or accident – they use video collaboration for internal and external communication between command and control and the first responders in the field. This keeps individuals at ground zero in contact with command and control and also ensures decision makers have situational awareness, so they know what is occurring and what needs to be deployed.

PSV: How about community colleges? What challenges do they face, and how are these grants – and the programs they enable – intended to help?

Ms. Bryant: The largest pain point isn’t at the college, but rather in the workforce. There is a shortage of qualified workers for the emerging industries and the jobs that are available. This is typically in the more advanced, technical industries, such as aerospace, clean energy or healthcare. These programs are being built to train workers in highly skilled, high-paying jobs, where they’re needed – and to get them out into the workforce more quickly.

One example of this kind of program is something we’re seeing at the high school level. With this program, a high school student can be simultaneously enrolled in the community college and take job training courses. Then, an industry partner in a high demand industry – like a Boeing or a hospital system – will create an internship that coordinates with the program. Following their graduation, they would have a job waiting for them from that employer. This requires a partnership between the high school, the community college, the workforce development board and the employer.

Other programs involve retraining individuals that have previously been in the workforce. These untraditional students could have been laid off when their jobs have left the region, were automated or otherwise eliminated, and need to be trained in new skills and abilities. This additional job training allows them to gain employment when they can’t find jobs in the areas where they were trained originally.

Ultimately, the community is the one to benefit from these programs. These workers will enter the workforce, where they’ll make a difference and drive the local economy. This is why the grants require such a partnership between multiple community organizations.

PSV: How is their investment of grant dollars into video collaboration helping communities?

Ms. Bryant: Video is a way to maintain the requisite partnerships across these disparate groups. It’s also a great way to continue education across the entire process and ensure that students have access to course materials regardless of time or location.

The need to train untraditional students also makes video essential. They have responsibilities – families, part time jobs – that make it difficult to attend classes on a traditional schedule. Video enables them to take courses on demand, when their schedules allow.

PSV: What resources are available to state and local governments that have needs in these areas and are looking to acquire grant dollars to help them meet those needs?

Ms. Bryant: Collaboration vendors can certainly be a resource. We understand the business case, the applications. We design the environment that the technology fits into, and we provide the technology solutions for these programs. So, you can definitely work with collaboration vendors.

Collaboration equipment manufacturers are also key. I have worked with the Polycom Grants Team over the past decade, and have seen, first-hand, how they’ve helped local agencies fund over $100 million in programs over that time. They’re very good and very successful in their work helping state and local governments acquire federal funding.

In addition, there are plenty of workshops and seminars available through organizations such as grants.gov.

One thing I would like to stress is that state and local agencies do not need to be an expert in grant writing and available grant programs. All they have to do is have an interest, and private partners can help them figure everything out. If they’re interested and in need, private partners will connect them to the appropriate resources and handle the rest.